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Historical Necessity and Freewill
GA 179

7. The Inadequacy of Natural Science for the Knowledge of the Life of the Soul. The Experiences of Man's Spirit-Soul with the Hierarchies

17 December 1917, Dornach

In the lectures given during this week there lies much which can lead us to understand the nature of man in its connection with the historical evolution of humanity in such a way as to enable us to gradually form a conception of necessity and free will. Such questions can be less easily decided by means of definitions and combinations of words than by bringing together the relevant truths from the spiritual world. In our age humanity must accustom itself more and more to acquire a different form of understanding for reality from the one so prevalent today, which, after all, holds to very secondary and nebulous concepts bound up with the definitions of words. If we consider what certain persons who think themselves especially clever write and say, we have the feeling that they speak in concepts and ideas which are only apparently clear; in reality however, they are as lacking in clarity as if someone were to speak of a certain object which is made, for example, out of a gourd, so that the gourd is transformed into a flask and used as such. We can then speak about this object as if we were speaking of a gourd, for it is a gourd in reality; but we can also speak of it as if it were a flask, for it is used as a flask. Indeed, the things of which we speak are first determined by the connections we are dealing with; as soon as we no longer rely upon words when we are speaking, but upon a certain perception, then everyone will know whether we mean a flask or a gourd. But then we may not confine ourselves to a description or a definition of the object. For as long as we confine ourselves to a description or definition of this object it can just as well be a gourd as a flask. In a similar way, that which is spoken of today by many philologists—persons who consider themselves very clever—may be the human soul, but it may also be the human body—it may be gourd or it may be flask. I include in this remark a great deal of what is taken seriously at the present time (partly to the detriment of humanity). For this reason it is necessary that a striving should proceed from anthroposophically oriented spiritual science, for which clear, precise thinking is above all a necessity, a striving to perceive the world not in the way in which it is customary today (not by confusing the gourd and the flask) but to see everywhere what is real, be it outer physical reality, or spiritual reality.

We cannot in any case arrive at a real concept of what comes into consideration for the human being when we hold only to definitions and the like; we can do so only when we bear in mind the relationships of life in their reality. And just where such important concepts as freedom (free will) and necessity in social and moral life are concerned, we attain clarity only when we place side by side such spiritual facts as those brought out in these lectures, and always strive to balance one against the other in order to reach a judgment as to reality.

Bear in mind that over and over again—even in public lectures and also here—I have brought out with a certain intensity, from the most varied points of view, the fact that we can only rightly grasp what we call concepts when we bring them into relation with our bodily organism, in such a way that the basis of concepts in the body is not seen in something growing and flourishing, but just the opposite—something dying, something in partial decay in the body. I have expressed this in public lectures by saying that the human being really dies continually in his nervous system. The nerve-process is such that it must limit itself to the nervous system. For if it were to spread itself over the rest of the organism, if in the rest of the organism the same thing were to go on that goes on in the nerves, this would signify the death of man at every moment. We may say that concepts arise where the organism destroys itself. We die continuously in our nervous system. For this reason spiritual science is placed under the necessity of pursuing other processes besides the ascending processes which natural science of today considers authentic. These ascending processes are the processes of growth; they reach their summit within the unconscious. Only when the organism begins to develop the processes of decline does the activity of the soul appear which we designate as conceptual or indeed as perceptive activity of the senses. This process of destruction, this slow process of death, must exist if anything at all is to be conceived. I have shown that the free actions of human beings rest upon just this fact, that the human being is in a position to seek the impulses for his actions out of pure thoughts. These pure thoughts have [the] most influence upon the processes of disintegration in the human organism. What happens in reality when man enacts a free deed? Let us realize what happens in the case of an ordinary person when he performs an act out of moral fantasy—you know now what I mean by this—out of moral fantasy, this means out of a thinking which is not ruled by sense-impulses, sense-desires and passions—what really takes place here in man? The following takes place: He gives himself up to pure thoughts; these form his impulses. They cannot impel him through what they are; the impulses must come from man himself. Thoughts are mere mirror-pictures, they belong to Maya. Mirror-pictures cannot compel. Man must compel himself under the influence of clear concepts.

Upon what do clear concepts work? They work most strongly upon the process of disintegration in the human organism; they bring this about. So we may say that on the one side the process of disintegration arises out of the organism, and on the other, the pure deed-thought (Tat-Gedanke) comes to meet this disintegrating process out of the spiritual world. I mean by this the thought that lies at the basis of deed. Free actions arise by uniting these two through the interaction of the process of disintegration and willed thinking.

I have said that the process of disintegration is not caused by pure thinking; it is there in any case, in fact it is always there. If man does not oppose these processes of disintegration with something coming out of pure thinking, then the disintegrating process is not transformed into an up-building process, then a part that is slowly dying remains within the human being. If you think this through, you will see that the possibility exists that just through the failure to perform free actions man fails to arrest a death process within him. Herein lies one of the subtlest thoughts which man must accept. He who understands this thought can no longer have any doubt in life about the existence of human freedom. An action that is performed in freedom does not occur through something that is caused within the organism but occurs where the cause ceases, in other words, out of a process of disintegration. There must be something in the organism where the causes cease; only then can the pure thought, as motive of the action, set in. But such disintegrating processes are always there, they only remain unused to a certain extent when man does not perform free deeds.

But this also shows the characteristics of an age that will have nothing to do with an understanding of the idea of freedom in its widest extent. The age running from the second half of the 19th century to the present has set itself the particular task of dimming down more and more the idea of freedom in all spheres of life, as far as knowledge is concerned, and of excluding it entirely from practical life. People did not wish to understand freedom, they would not have freedom. Philosophers have made every effort to prove that everything arises out of human nature through a certain necessity. Certainly, a necessity underlies man's nature; but this necessity ceases as disintegrating processes begin, as the sequence of causes comes to an end. When freedom has set in at the point where the necessity in the organism ceases, one cannot say that man's actions arise out of an inner necessity, for they arise only when this necessity ceases. The whole mistake consists in the fact that people have been unwilling to understand not only the up-building forces in the organism, but also the disintegrating processes. However, in order to understand what really underlies man's nature it will be necessary to develop a greater capacity to do this than in our age. Yesterday we saw how necessary it is to be able to look with the eye of the soul upon what we call the human Ego. But just in our times human beings are not very gifted in comprehending this reality of the Ego. I will give an illustration.

I have often referred to the remarkable scientific achievement of Theodor Ziehen “Die physiologische Psychologie”—“Physiological Psychology.” On page 205 the Ego is also spoken of; but Ziehen is never in a position even to indicate the real Ego, he merely speaks of the Ego-concept. We know that this is only a mirror-picture of the real Ego. But it is particularly interesting to hear how a distinguished thinker of today—but one who believes that he can exhaust everything with natural scientific ideas—speaks about the Ego. Ziehen says:

It will perhaps occur to you that the Ego-concept which is expressed in the small word “I,” is a very complex threefold entity containing thousands and thousands of partial concepts. But I beg you to ponder this, the word is indeed short, but its conceptual content must be complex, as shown by the fact that each one of you would be at a loss if he were asked to render in thoughts the content of his so-called Ego-concept.

And now Ziehen attempts to say something about the thought-content of the Ego-concept. Let us now see what the distinguished scholar has to say concerning what we must really think when we think about our Ego.

You will immediately think of your body, [you notice that he says—you will think of your body] of your relationships to the outer world, [connection with the outer world] your family and personal relationships, [in other words you will soon begin to think of your bank account and to count your money!] of your name and title.

Now the distinguished scholar emphatically points out that we must also think of our name and of our title if we are to grasp or to encompass our Ego in the form of concept.

..... Your principal inclinations, predominating ideas and finally your past, and thus prove to yourself how extremely complex this Ego-concept is. Indeed, the reflective human being reduces this complexity of the Ego-concept to a relative simplicity by placing his own Ego as the subject of his feelings, thoughts and movements, against the outer objects and other Egos. Of course, this contrast and this sharpening of the Ego-concept has also its deeper scientific and philosophical basis, but considered purely psychologically this simple Ego is only a theoretical fiction.

Thus “this simple Ego” is only a “theoretical fiction” that means a mere fantasy-concept, which constructs itself when we put together our name, title, or let us assume our rank and other such things also, which make us important! By means of such points we can see the whole weakness of the present way of thinking. And this weakness must be held in mind the more firmly because of the fact that what proves itself to be a decided weakness for the knowledge of the life of the soul is a strength for the knowledge of outer natural scientific facts. What is inadequate for a knowledge of the life of the soul, just this is adequate for penetrating the obvious facts in their immediate outer necessity.

We must not deceive ourselves in regard to the fact that it is one of the characteristics of our times, that people who may be great in one field are exponents of the greatest nonsense in another. Only when we hold this fact clearly in mind—which is so well adapted to throw sand in the eyes of humanity—can we in any way follow with active thought what is required in order to raise again that power which man needs in order to acquire concepts that can penetrate fruitfully and healingly into life. For only those concepts can take firm hold of life as it is today, which are drawn out of the depths of true reality—where we are not afraid to enter deeply into true reality. But it is just this that many people shun today.

At present people are very often inclined to reform the spiritual reality, without first having perceived the true reality out of which they should draw their impulses.

Who today does not go about reforming everything in the world—or at least, believing he can reform it? What do people not draw up from the soul out of sheer nothingness! But at a time such as this only those things can be fruitful which are drawn up from the depths of spiritual reality itself. For this the Will must be active.

The vanity that wishes to take up every possible idea of reform on the basis of emptiness of soul is just as harmful for the development of our present time as materialism itself. At the conclusion of a previous lecture I called your attention to how the true Ego of man, the Ego which indeed belongs to the will-nature and which for this reason is immersed in sleep for the ordinary consciousness, must be fructified through the fact that already through public instruction man is led to a concrete grasp of the great interests of the times, by realizing what

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struction man is led to a concrete grasp of the great interests of the times, by realizing what spiritual forces and activities enter into our events and have an influence upon them. This cannot be accomplished with generalized, nebulous speeches about the spirit, but with knowledge of the concrete spiritual events, as we have described them in these lectures, where we have indicated, according to dates, how here and there certain of these powers and forces from the spiritual world have intervened here in the physical.

This brought about what I was able to describe to you as the joint work of the so-called dead and of the so-called living in the whole development of humanity. For the reality of our life of feeling and of will is in the realm where the dead also are. We can say that the reality of our Ego and of our astral body is in the same realm where the dead can also be found. The same thing is meant in both cases. This, however, indicates a common realm in which we are embedded, in which the dead and the living work together upon the tapestry which we may call the social, moral, and historical life of man in its totality; the periods of existence which are lived through between death and a new birth also belong to this realm. We have indicated in these lectures how between death and a new birth the so-called departed one has the animal kingdom as his lowest kingdom, just as the mineral kingdom is our lowest kingdom. We have also pointed out in a certain way, how the departed one has to work within the being of the animal kingdom, and has to build up out of the laws of the animalic the organization that again forms the basis for his next incarnation. We have shown how as second kingdom the departed one experiences all those connections which have their karmic foundation here in the physical world and which, correspondingly transformed, continue within the spiritual world. A second kingdom thus arises for the departed one, which is woven together of all the karmic connections that he has established at any time in an earthly incarnation. Through this, however, everything that the human being has developed between death and a new birth gradually spreads itself out, one might say, quite concretely over the whole of humanity.

The third kingdom through which the human being then passes can be conceived as the kingdom of the Angels. In a certain sense we have already pointed out the role of the Angels during the life between death and a new birth. They carry as it were the thoughts from one human soul to another and back again; they are the messengers of the common life of thought. Fundamentally speaking, the Angels are those Beings among the higher Hierarchies of whom the departed one has the clearest living experience—he has a clear living experience of the relationships with animals and human beings, established through his karma; but among the Beings of the higher Hierarchies he has the clearest conception of those belonging to the Hierarchy of the Angels, who are really the bearers of thoughts, indeed of the soul-content from one being to another, and who also help the dead to transform the animal world. When we speak of the concerns of the dead as personal concerns, we might say that the Beings of the Hierarchy of the Angels must strive above all to look after the personal concerns of the dead. The more universal affairs of the dead that are not personal are looked after more by the Beings of the Kingdom of the Archangeloi and Archai.

If you recall the lectures in which I have spoken about the life between death and a new birth, you will remember that part of the life of the so-called dead consists in spreading out his being over the world and in drawing it together again within himself I have already described and substantiated this more deeply. The life of the dead takes its course in such a way that a kind of alternation takes place between day and night, but so that active life arises from within the departed. He knows that this active life which thus arises is only the reappearance of what he has experienced in that other state which alternates with this one, when his being is spread out over the world and is united with the outer world. Thus when we come into contact with one who is dead we meet alternating conditions, a condition, for instance, where his being is spread out over the world, where he grows, as it were, with his own being into the real existence of his surroundings, into the events of his surroundings. The time when he knows least of all is when his own being that is in a kind of sleeping state grows into the spiritual world around him. When this again rises up within him it constitutes a kind of waking state and he is aware of everything, for his life takes its course within Time and not in space. Just as with our waking day-consciousness we have outside in space that which we take up in our consciousness, and then again withdraw from it in sleep—so from a certain moment onward the departed one takes over into the next period of time the experiences which he has passed through in a former one; these then fill his consciousness. It is a life entirely within Time. And we must become familiar with this.

Through this rhythmic life within Time, the departed enters into a very definite relationship with the Beings of the hierarchy of the Archangeloi and of the Archai. He has not as clear a conception of these Archangeloi and Archai Beings as of the Angels, of man, and of the animal; above all he always has this conception that these Beings, the Archai and Archangeloi, work together with him in this awaking and falling asleep, awaking and falling asleep, in this rhythm which takes place within the course of time. The departed one, when he is able to do so, must always bring to consciousness what he experienced unknowingly in the preceding period of time; then he always has the consciousness that a Being of the Hierarchy of the Archai has awakened him; he is always conscious that he works together with the Archai and Archangeloi in all that concerns this rhythmic life.

Let us firmly grasp the fact that just as in a waking state we realize that we perceive the outer world of which we know nothing during sleep, just as we realize that this outer world sinks into darkness when we fall asleep, so in the soul of the so-called dead lives this consciousness—Archai, Archangeloi, these are the Beings with whom I am united in a common work in order that I may pass through this life of falling asleep and awaking, falling asleep and awaking, and so forth. We might say that the departed one associates with the Archangeloi and Archai just as in waking consciousness we associate with the plant and mineral world of our physical surroundings. Man cannot however look back upon this interplay of forces in which he is interwoven between death and a new birth. Why not? We may indeed say, why not, but just this looking back is something which man must learn; yet it is difficult for him to learn this owing to the materialistic mentality of today. I would like to show you in a diagram why man does not look back upon this.

Let us suppose that you are facing the world with all your organs of perception and understanding. This will give you a conceptual and perceptive content of a varied kind. I will designate the consciousness of a single moment by drawing different rings or small circles. These indicate what exists in the consciousness during the space of a moment. You know that a memory-process takes place when you look back over events—but in a different manner than modern psychologists imagine this. The time into which you can look back, to which your memory extends, is indicated by this line; it really indicates the space which here reaches a blind alley. This would be the point in your third, fourth or fifth year that is as far back as you can remember in life. Thus all the thoughts which arise when you look back upon your past experiences lie within this space of time. Let us suppose that you think of something in your thirtieth year for instance, and while you are thinking of this you remember something that you experienced ten years ago. If you picture very vividly what is actually taking place in the soul you will be able to form the following thought. You will say, if I look back to the point of time in my childhood which is as far back as I can remember, this constitutes a “sack” in the soul, which has its limits; its blunt end is the point which lies as far back in my childhood as I am able to remember. This is a sort of “sack” in the soul; it is the space of time which we can grasp in memory. Imagine such a “soul-sack” into which you can look while you are looking back in memory; these are the extreme limits of the sack which correspond in reality to the limit between the etheric body and the physical. This boundary must exist, otherwise ... well, to picture it roughly, the events that call forth memory would then always fall through at this point. You would be able to remember nothing, the soul would be a sack without a bottom, everything would fall through it. Thus, a boundary must be there. An actual “soul-sack” must be there. But at the same time this “soul-sack” prevents you from perceiving what you have lived through outside it. You yourself are non-transparent in the life of your soul because you have memories; you are non-transparent because you have the faculty of memory.

You see therefore—that which causes us to have a proper consciousness for the physical plane is at the same time the cause of our being unable to look with our ordinary consciousness into the region that lies behind memory. For it does really lie behind memory. But we can make the effort to gradually transform our memories to some extent. However we must do this carefully. We can begin by trying to keep before us in meditation with more and more accuracy something which we can remember, until we feel that it is not merely something which we take hold of in memory, but something which really remains there. One who develops an intensive, active life of the spirit will gradually have the feeling that memory is not something that comes and goes, comes and goes—but that memory contains something permanent. Indeed, work in this direction can only lead to the conviction that what rises within memory is of a lasting nature and really remains present as Akashic Record, for it does not disappear. What we remember remains in the world, it is there in reality. But we do not progress any further with this method; for merely to remember accurately our personal experiences, and the knowledge that memory remains—this method is in a higher sense too egotistical to lead farther than just to this conviction. On the contrary, if you were to develop beyond a certain point just this capacity of looking upon the permanency of your own experiences, you would obstruct all the more your outlook into the free world of spirit. Instead of the sack of memories, your own life stands there all the more compactly and prevents you from looking through.

Another method may be used in contrast to this; through it, the impressions in the Akashic Record become remarkably transparent, if I may use this expression. When we are once able to look through the stationary memories, we look with a sure eye into the spiritual world with which we are connected between death and a new birth. But to attain this we must not use merely the stationary memories of our own life; these become more and more compact, and we can see through them less and less. They must become transparent. And they become transparent if we make an ever stronger attempt to remember not so much what we have experienced from our own point of view, but more what has come to us from outside. Instead of remembering for instance what we have learned, we should remember the teacher, his manner of speech, what effect he had upon us and what he did with us. We should try to remember how the book arose out of which we learned this or that. We should remember above all what has worked upon us from the outer world. A beautiful and really wonderful beginning, indeed an introduction to such a memory, is Goethe's Wahrheit and Dichtung (his autobiography) where he shows how Time has formed him, how various forces have worked upon him. Because Goethe was able to achieve this in his life, and looked back on his life not from the standpoint of his own experiences, but from the standpoint of others and of the events of the times that worked upon him, he was able to have such deep insight into the spiritual world.

But this is at the same time the way that enables us to come into deeper touch with the time which has taken its course between our last death and our present birth.

Thus you see that today I am referring you, from another point of view, to the same thing to which I have already referred—to extend our interests beyond the personal, to turn our interests and attention not upon ourselves, but upon that that has formed us, that out of which we have arisen. It is an ideal to be able to look back upon time, upon a remote antiquity, and to investigate all the forces that have formed these “fine fellows”—the human beings.

Indeed, when we describe it thus, this offers few difficulties; it is no simple task, but it bears rich fruit because it requires great selflessness. It is just this method that awakens the forces which enable us to enter with our Ego the sphere which the dead have in common with the living. To know ourselves, is less important than to know our time; the task of public instruction in a not too distant future will be to know our time in its concrete reality, not as it now stands in history books ... but time such as it has evolved out of spiritual impulses.

Thus we are also led to extend out interest to a characteristic of our age and its rise from the universal world process. Why did Goethe strive so intense to know Greek art, to understand his age, through and through, to weigh it against earlier ages? Why did he make his Faust go back as far as the Greek age, as far as the age of Helen of Troy, and seek Chiron and the Sphinxes? Because he wished to know his own age and how it had worked upon him, as he could know it only by measuring it against an earlier age. But Goethe does not let his Faust sit still and decipher old state-records, but he leads him back along paths of the soul to the impulses by which he himself has been formed. Within him lies much of that which leads the human being on the one hand to a meeting with the dead, and on the other hand with the Spirits of Time, with the Archangels (this is now evident through the connection of the dead with the Archangels). Through the fact that man comes together with the dead, he also comes in touch with the Archangels and with the Spirits of Time.

Just the impulses that Goethe indicated in his Faust contain that through which the human being extends his interest to the Time Spirit, and that which is preeminently necessary for our times. It is indeed necessary for our times to look in a different way for instance upon Faust. Most of those who study Faust hardly find the real problems contained in it. A few are able to formulate these problems, but the answers are most curious.

Take for example the passage where Goethe really indicates to us that we should reflect. Do people always reflect at this point? Yet Goethe spares no effort to make it clearly understood that people should reflect upon certain things. For instance you know that Erichtho speaks about the site of the Classical Walpurgis-night; she withdraws and the air-traveler Homunculus appears with Faust and Mephistopheles. You will recall the first speeches of Homunculus, Mephistopheles and Faust. After Faust has touched the ground and called out. “Where is she?”—Homunculus says:—

It's more than we can tell
But to enquire would here be well.
Thou 'rt free to hasten, ere the day,
From flame to flame, and seek her so:
Who to the Mothers found his way,
Has nothing more to undergo.

Homunculus says:—

Who to the Mothers found his way,
Has nothing more to undergo.

How does he know that Faust has been with the Mothers? This is a question which necessarily arises; for if you will look back through the book you will find that there is nowhere any indication that Homunculus, a distinct and separate being from Faust, could have known that Faust had been with the Mothers. Now suddenly Homunculus pipes out that, “Who to the Mothers found his way, has nothing more to undergo.” You see, Goethe propounds riddles. With clear-cut necessity it ensues that Homunculus, if he is anything at all, is something within the sphere of consciousness of Faust himself, for he can know what is contained in the sphere of Faust's consciousness only if he himself belongs to this same sphere of consciousness.

Call to mind the various expositions we have given of Faust:—how Homunculus is really nothing else than what must be prepared as astral body, in order that Helen may appear. But for this reason he is in another state of consciousness; his consciousness is spread out over the astral body. When we know that Homunculus comes within the sphere of Faust's consciousness we can understand his knowledge. Goethe makes Homunculus come into existence because, through the creation of Homunculus, Faust's consciousness finds the possibility of transcending itself as it were, not merely of remaining within itself, but of being outside. He, too, is where Homunculus is to be found; Homunculus is a part of Faust's consciousness. Goethe as you see takes alchemy very seriously. There are many such riddles in Faust which are directly connected with the secrets of the spiritual world. We must allow Faust to work upon us so that we become aware of the depths of spiritual reality which are really contained in it. We can only understand a man like Goethe when we realize on the one hand, that he had studied what had formed him really as if he had viewed it from outside, as can be seen in his autobiography (Wahrheit and Dichtung)—and that on the other hand, he knew that this must lead back to distant perspectives, to distant connections with the dead. Faust enters the life of very ancient civilizations of humanity, the life of spiritual Beings lying far back in the past.